Making the internet, search and social media easy
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All contents © Phil Bradley, various dates. Please do not reuse without prior discussion. Thank you!
Solving the problem
Until you know where the conversations are, you can't really go there, can you? So the first thing to do is to spend some time checking out social networks - not just the big four, but plenty of others as well. Explore the use of different social media search engines - I've got a list of over 30 social media search engines that you can try. That might give you some obvious clues. Then again, if you are already monitoring different social networks you'll have some idea as it is.
Perhaps the easiest resource to use without spending huge amounts of time on it is Twitter. Pay attention to the @mentions of your name - someone is calling out for your attention and it's worth getting back to them as quickly as possible. Create your own lists on Twitter of your top tweeters in a particular subject area and spend a couple of minutes a day monitoring those lists, rather than the general stream of tweets going back and forth. Set up your own preferred searches and store those, so you can quickly see what is being mentioned. Check the trending topics, or use a site such as Addict-o-matic to instantly create a custom page with the latest information, which it can pull from Bing News, Google blog search (which has since closed), YouTube, Flickr, Twingly, Wikio and so on. Consider using some of the alternative clients to the Twitter interface - Hootsuite and Tweetdeck for example. If there's a conference taking place, or breaking news, then use a resource such as TwitterFountain. Those are just a few of the ways in which you can use Twitter and stay up to date and informed without it actually taking very much time at all.
However, that's only one side of the coin. Using Twitter like this will not increase your influence or presence, and this is absolutely vital, if you're to contribute to your communities and become one of that important 5% that find and post useful material that everyone is looking for. You can add really useful content quickly and easily - look for a 'Tweet this' option on a page or a blog, and click it. If you have a website, you can add a Tweet button with a quick line of HTML. Visit the Twitter resources page for the script. It should look something like this:
If you've got a couple of seconds, click on the link and you'll see exactly what it does. And yes, that is blatant self promotion! You could also add a 'TwitThis' button to your browser which makes the whole process again very easy and straightforward. Set up an account with Packratius so that all of your tweeted links get added to your Delicious account, and this can then feed back onto your own site or blog. Finally, keep a note on how well you are doing by checking your Klout score which measures your influence on Twitter.
LinkedIn is not quite as helpful as Twitter when it comes to monitoring the news stream. LinkedIn offers two types of feeds, public and personal. Public feeds offer the same content to all LinkedIn members. Personal feeds contain private information from your LinkedIn network. It's rather clunky, and doesn't really feel very granular to me, and of course requires the use of an RSS reader, which is adding another step to the process. LinkedIn does have a nice search feature though, which is a browser toolbar, which allows for a quick search from anywhere and direct access to LinkedIn. There's also a LinkedIn bookmarklet that you can install, and that allows you to share webpages with your professional network and groups directly from the page, even when you're not on LinkedIn.
Facebook, wishing to keep the walled garden approach whenever they can is also unhelpful. They send notifications whenever actions are taken on Facebook that involve you, and you can change which applications and features can do this. As usual, this hidden under several layers; Account, Notifications, and then clicking on the notification section that interests you. Facebook aren't merely being a nuisance with this by the way - the more difficult it becomes, the more likely (they think) you will remain logged into your account.Karen Blakeman wrote an excellent and pithy blog post on the use (or otherwise) of Facebook and RSS. There is of course the 'Like' button, and it's worth exploring that - particularly if you're pushing out content to other people, although it can be a pain to use.
For a social media network produced by the largest and most well known search engine in the world bar none, the search options at Google+ are, not to put too fine a point on it, pants. Mashable have a nice article on creating an RSS feed for a Google+ profile, but it's not pretty. The Google+ search option is poor, but there are some work arounds. Searching for people isn't too bad, just use a string similar to site:plus.google.com library -intitle:library lived UK which gives you a listing of people on Google+ with some sort of library connection who have lived in the UK. Or try site:plus.google.com librarian CILIP which gives you people who probably library workers with an interest in CILIP. Trying to get an RSS feed however is not easy - normally I just re-run my search in Google News, click on the RSS option and take it from there. However, if you go to your Google alerts page (presuming you have set any up) you can fiddle around a little bit and have new results sent to you by email or to an RSS reader. However, it's clunky. Perhaps instead of my usual mantra that 'Google doesn't get social' I need to focus slightly and start saying 'Google doesn't get social search'. Google does allow webmasters to use a +1 button on their pages though. However, it's not easy to use; at least, I didn't find it so. There's also a bookmarklet that you can add to your browser to alert people to the pages that you're +1'ing.
That's still a stupid amount of work!
Yes, we've not actually done too much to narrow down the workload so far, although there are a number of different options available. This is where I would suggest using a tool such as Netvibes, which allows you to create your own dashboards of content. You can see my public pages which have a number of different tabs, with various modules within each. I can utilise the modules on offer to add links to Twitter and Facebook. I can also add in RSS feeds, either for pages, profiles, searches or items added to Delicious. What's more important is that it's very easy and simple to set up and you can make your pages public or private. The layout is easy, and you can easily monitor your entire social media presence from it. While there are other resources that try and do this, Netvibes is the one that works best - at least for me.
So much work, so easy to do it.
So, at long last I've reached what I regard as a good answer for the question 'which social network should I use?' You should use all of them - or at least as many of them as you have found valuable. Make use of any bookmarklets to add pages that you find useful, and to alert your followers, groups, circles or what have you. Monitor the activity from arms length whenever possible, and only go to the resource(s) when there's an absolute need. Try and incorporate everything into a single tool if possible, or failing that, make sure that what you add into one resource can be quickly transported across to another.
And why you have to.
I'm sorry to add this last section in, but I think it's important that I do. Proactive use of social media networks is not a nice add-on, or a thing to spare a few minutes on a week. You can get away without a media presence for only so long and those days are fast becoming numbered. The more you can like, +1, and the more people you can follow, have following you, and add to networks spread across resources such as Delicious or Slideshare, the more authority you will have. This will benefit you, your organisation and your users. If your managers are still thinking twice about this, just do a search for your company or group, and show them just how much of the data that's being returned is from social media sites. That's not going to decrease - but what WILL decrease is the value of the website itself. Point out the different ways that you can obtain information and the ways that people obtain information about your company or organisation. Not taking part in social media networks is a very definate choice - it's not a weak, 'let's put it off for a while' decision. It's a deliberate move to run away from the very resources that an increasing number of people are using on a regular basis - not monthly, but weekly, daily and hourly. They wouldn't dream of not being on the internet and using it, so please make the point - if you can - that if your group is in the 48% not using these tools it's almost as bad as not using the internet at all.
Prove the value of social media right now!
I have set up a little poll on SurveyMonkey, just to see how you found this article. It's just one question long - if you have 10 more seconds, please click on the link and see which resource has brought most visitors to it. If the poll is over, still take a look and see what the results were. Until then however, please take the survey!